100 gifts that are (almost) always a hit with kids

I’m not a recreational shopper typically, but I enjoy choosing gifts from my loved ones that they will enjoy. It’s a chance to think about them more deeply and a reminder to pay attention to what brings them pleasure. For kids, especially if you live far from them, this can be hard. Here is my go-to list for fun presents to send to kids. Of course, it’s best if you select what the children in your life have shown you that they love, and you should know that the adults who spend time with them will appreciate it too; no one wants to give a gift that will feel like a burden. Here are our ideas, and we’d love to hear yours!

  1. construction paper
  2. scissors with funky edges 
  3. glue sticks of different colors
  4. scented crayons or markers
  5. high-end colored pencils
  6. art pencils and a high quality eraser
  7. gel pens or Sharpies
  8. an art easel
  9. sketch books of various sizes
  10. a satchel for carrying art supplies
  11. cannisters for art supplies
  12. an electric pencil sharpener
  13. a high quality journal
  14. a journal with a lock and key
  15. a coin counting piggy bank
  16. a ceramic bank of a favorite animal
  17. a small safe
  18. a lockbox with a key
  19. a fireproof envelope for special documents
  20. a photo album with pictures of them
  21. a time capsule for them to make
  22. a time capsule with things about them inside
  23. fuzzy socks
  24. funny socks
  25. new mittens with clips to hang them on their coat
  26. gloves that can work with a touch screen
  27. long johns or footie pajamas
  28. a body pillow or a boyfriend pillow
  29. a bean bag chair 
  30. a book lamp
  31. a handcrank flashlight
  32. a handcrank radio
  33. a water bottle, mug, thermos, or travel mug
  34. fruit leather
  35. dehydrated strawberries or raspberries
  36. kumquats
  37. cheddar cheese or caramel popcorn
  38. snack food from another country
  39. movie theater sized boxes of candy
  40. walkie talkies
  41. a tent
  42. a hammock
  43. a canteen
  44. a sleeping bag
  45. a humidifier that uses essential oils, plus some oils
  46. nail polish
  47. Working Hands hand cream
  48. mud masks
  49. lip gloss
  50. lip balm
  51. shaving supplies
  52. a roll of quarters to use in vending machines
  53. a monogrammed apron 
  54. a kid-sized suitcase
  55. a wallet
  56. a purse
  57. a magazine subscription
  58. fancy stationary
  59. post card stamps
  60. hard-to-find candies or sodas
  61. vegan beef jerky
  62. an age-appropriate cookbook
  63. an address book filled out with addresses you know they will want
  64. a perpetual calendar where they can write birthdays of friends
  65. a pop socket
  66. a magnetic phone mount (for those old enough to drive)
  67. a power bank
  68. a very fancy bookmark
  69. Stretch Armstrong and his dog Fetch Armstrong
  70. the book that won this year’s Caldecott, Newberry, Coretta Scott King, Batchelder (for foreign language book translated into English), Geisel Medal, Belpre Medal, Odyssey, Hornbook, Ezra Jack Keats, Charlotte Zolotow, or Hornbook awards
  71. a pop-up tunnel for use inside
  72. a swing
  73. a “flexible flyer” style sled
  74. a red runner sled
  75. a toboggan 
  76. a snow tube sled
  77. a record player with records
  78. the board game that won this year’s Game of the Year
  79. retro games for their current game system
  80. Rubik’s cube
  81. Dutch Blitz
  82. Parcheesi or another classic game they don’t have
  83. Uno or, if they already have it, Skip Bo or Duo
  84. a small electric blanket
  85. a water bottle or rice bag that you heat and put in your bed
  86. new sheets with their favorite characters on them
  87. a houseplant
  88. a birdhouse, bird feeder with food or a suet feeder, or bird bath
  89. a bat house
  90. a new soccer or basketball with air pump, if they don’t already have one
  91. a yoga ball or a yoga mat
  92. a fun night light
  93. an alarm clock
  94. a new percussion instrument, like jingle bells or claves or a woodblock or hand drums
  95. unusual teas and a tea strainer
  96. spice mixes for popcorn
  97. a pocketknife, Swiss army knife, or leatherman
  98. a microscope
  99. a telescope
  100. binoculars
Above, our tree on the night before Christmas, 2020.

Children’s Time: Add some salt!

In this children’s time, we explore what Jesus might have meant said, ” “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.'” Expect to learn some new facts about salt–and a method for working through metaphors and similes that children can start to practice on their own.

Children’s Time: “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day was the first children’s picture book to respectfully depict Black children. Teachers who read it to their students soon reported that it helped African American children see themselves for the first time in books. One teacher wrote to him, according to Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation:

There was a teacher [who] wrote in to Ezra, saying, ‘The kids in my class, for the first time, are using brown crayons to draw themselves.’ These are African-American children. Before this, they drew themselves with pink crayons. But now, they can see themselves.

You can hear this story read aloud as part of our church’s commitment to sharing picture books featuring Black characters during the month of February.

You can hear the whole service here.

Children’s Time: The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple

Yesterday marked the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple, a feast that celebrates Jesus’ first appearance as a child at the temple, 40 days after his birth. It’s the end of the Christmas season at our house, and it was the subject of this week’s children’s time at our church, which featured the artwork of icon artist Kelly Latimer.

You can find the whole online service here.

Christmas Pickles

From my youngest:

“Everyone who knows our family knows we love pickles. At Christmas, we hide a pickle ornament on our tree. If you find it, you get to open the first present. I think other families have this tradition too, but it’s special for us because we love pickles so much.
“Here is a picture of our pickle ornament. Everyone can see it now, but my mom will hide it on Christmas Eve.

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A shiny glass pickle hangs on our Christmas tree. This year, my youngest found it and so got to open the first present: a Stretch Armstrong doll.

“We want you to have a pickle ornament, too. We made lots of them from paper and put them in the Sharing Box [an outdoor pantry in our neighborhood]. We hope you like them!”

Two paper pickles, made from paint chips, with string loops glued to the back of them, rest in an open palm.

“Papa Panov’s Special Christmas”

We are so fortunate to belong to a church that welcomes the full participation of children. During Advent, our family has been able to make contributions to the daily Advent Reflections shared with congregants. In this contribution, my middle child reads the story “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas” by Leo Tolstoy. It’s about 7 minutes long and appropriate for children of all ages.

We hope you enjoy!

Advent People: The Magi from the East

This year, I’m sharing a bit about an Advent activity my church did last Advent during our time dedicated to children. Each Sunday of Advent, we introduced a few new characters from the Christmas story, each a tiny porcelain figure. By Christmas, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, and the shepherd were at the manger, under the star, but the Magi had not yet arrived. Each week, children were invited to search for the week’s figures after church each week, sharing where they found them with other children so that everyone could find them. If they shared the location with the adult who led children’s time that Sunday, they received a small stone with one of that week’s figures painted on it as a prize, so that by the end of Advent, they had a Holy Family + Angel nativity scene.

Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story, so I aimed for 5-8 minutes of attentive time and tried to make no assumptions about their knowledge. I briefly told the story this way:

The first person who learned that God was coming to live among people was Mary, but he soon told Joseph. Then he told poor shepherds. We know from these stories that God cared about women and the poor and trusted them with this important news before God trusted anyone else.

But the story of Jesus is for everyone. Along with Mary and Joseph, who were Jewish, God told a number of people the Bible calls “wise men from the East.” We don’t think this just means that they were super smart. We think it means that they were magi. Magi were astronomers who studied the stars, but they werebl also associated with a different religion–Zoroastrianism. Zorastrian priests were very learned in the sciences, and they were always seeking new knowledge. The Bible tells us that the magi knew something that others didn’t–that the baby that had been born to Mary was very special! This reminds us that God wants the whole world to know how important Jesus is. When the angel Gabriel told Joseph that the baby’s nickname would be Immanuel, which means God is with Us, God didn’t just mean that God would be with the Jewish people but that God would be with all the people of the world.

In our manger scene, there are three wise men, which is traditional in many nativities. But we don’t know how many they were or what they looked at. Christians in Syria traditionally say that there were 12 of them! What is important is that God told people from all over the known world that Jesus was born, and whether people were poor and disrespected, like the shepherds, or rich and admired, like the magi, they should come and worship him.

Now that the magi have arrived, our nativity scene is complete! [Show it to the children. Some will notice that an important figure–Baby Jesus–is missing!]

You are right! It’s not complete! Today, we are going to talk about one more Christmas tradition. This one is from France, and people living in places that the French colonized, like Haiti and New Orleans, celebrate today as Three Kings Day, because sometimes the magi are also called “kings.” Hispanic cultures have a similar celebration. To celebrate, they bake a cake–and one of the slices has the tiny Jesus figure in it. Whoever gets the piece with the Jesus in it is the king or queen–or we might say monarch–of Christmas. We have a cake celebrating Epiphany to share after church today, so you may have a piece if you and your grown ups agree. Or, if you don’t like cake, I have a balloon for you instead.*

*As always, it is best if you know the children in front of you. If you bake your Three Kings cake, you can make a version that accommodates allergies, or else you can request a gluten/dairy/egg/nut free one from a bakery. It’s always a good idea to have a non-food alternative available to children. Today, a Christmas ornament, balloon, or small coin might be a good alternative.

Advent People: We Give Our Gifts

This year, I’m sharing a bit about an Advent activity my church did last Advent during our time dedicated to children. Each Sunday of Advent, we introduced one or more figures to our Christmas story.  The figures were hidden in the church each week, moving closer and closer to the Bethlehem, the manger, and the star, and children were invited to search for them after church each week, sharing where they found them with other children so that everyone could find them. If they shared the location with the adult who led children’s time that Sunday, they received a small stone with one of that week’s figures painted on it as a prize, so that by the end of Advent, they had a Holy Family + Angel nativity scene.

The Sunday after Christmas (December 27 in 2020), we sing Christmas carols for the whole service. This week, our focus for children’s time was on gift giving.

Our children span from 2-12, and some are very familiar and some very unfamiliar with the Christmas story, so I aimed for 5-8 minutes of attentive time.

I brought with me four items: a pair of shoes, a Christmas stocking, a plate with cookies and carrots, and a shoebox with grass in it. Here is a rough transcript of what I shared:

In some parts of the world, December 6 is St. Nicholas Day. Others celebrate it on December 19th, and some people don’t celebrate it at all. Did anyone put shoes [showing my shoes] out for St. Nicholas at night and find that, in the morning, they had coins in them? [Children shared what they did for St. Nicholas day.]

[Showing a plate of cookies and carrots.] Did anyone put something like this out on Christmas Eve? We put out peppernuts. What kind of cookies did you put out for Santa? [Children’s sharing.] Did anyone put out something for Santa’s reindeer?

Did of you put out stockings on Christmas Eve? This stocking is special to me, because my mother made it for my daughter, as a gift to her for her first Christmas. Do you have special stockings? [Children share about their stockings.]

[Showing the shoe box of grass.] Next week is Epiphany, when many Christians celebrate when the magi or wise men visited Jesus. In our nativity sets, we often see three magi, but the Bible actually doesn’t tell us how many came. Has anyone here ever put out a gift for the magi? [No one did.] Look what is inside this box. [Show it to children and have one of them announce that it is filled with grass.] Right, it’s grass. We traditionally show the magi traveling by camel, so children in Puerto Rico, which is part of the US, often leave a box of grass for the camels, and they get little gifts in exchange on Epiphany, which is sometimes also called Three Kings Day.

These are all examples of how we give and receive gifts at Christmas. Maybe your family has other traditions, too. Christians around the world all have different customs.

Today at church, we are having a Christmas carol hymn sing. When we sign to God, we are giving God the gift of our voices and praise. Today, we are also saying “thank you” to God for the gifts God has given us. And we’re sharing our gifts with each other, too–like the gift of playing the piano or the trumpet! God loves it when we share our gifts with each other and share our time together to say praise God for the gifts we’ve received.

I then shared that this was our final day of searching for figures for the nativity. Next week, for Epiphany, the magi would join the other figures in our creche. But today, they were still hidden. And like the magi of the story, they were coming from the East (that is, hidden on the East side of the sanctuary). When the children found them and reported back on their location, they received a small prize (in this case, $1).

***Any time you speak to children or adults about gift giving, be sensitive. Invitations to share what they received as gifts may result in comparisons that make some children feel short-changed or others embarrassed. “Did you do X?” is gentler than “Did you get any presents?”, but even this should be asked only if you know the situation of children in your presence. Children in foster care or unstable family situations may not have strong traditions.